Monday, January 26, 2015

Birding Thailand's biggest

After meeting along the final stretch through Cambodia, Leo and I arrived in Poipet in the late afternoon. I was determined to cross the border to Thailand straight away, as I had already over-stayed my one-month visa by four days and did not want to get fined for a fifth day. So we split ways, after agreeing to meet up again the next day on the road in Thailand. I wondered what the odds would be of missing each other on the road – it’s a long, busy road out there! In the meanwhile, my border crossing was over in no time; the officials were efficient and the fine was reasonable.

Park your bike and stay a while.

Boats on a river south of Bangkok.

A White-vented Myna with its meal beside the road.

The next day I was on the road early, as I figured Leo would eventually catch up on me rather than the other way round. However, I did not reckon on the split in the road. Surprise! There were two roads leading to Bangkok. To the right was the original road, which Leo and I had agreed to meet along, while the other was a new and more direct route. After briefly contemplating the implications of taking one or the other, I settled for the latter, the shorter route, assuming that Leo would do the same. Common roadside birds included Red Collared-dove, White-vented Myna, Asian Pied Starling, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Ashy Woodswallow, Plain-backed Sparrow, Asian Openbill, and Eastern Cattle Egret. Some nice surprises were Pied Fantail, Yellow Bittern, Javan Pond Heron and Asian Golden Weaver.  Some 20 km down the new road, I stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. An hour had not yet passed, when I spotted Leo approaching. The odds where indeed in our favour! And so the cycling partnership resumed.

Javan Pond Herons are common at wetlands.

In a way it was a blessing cycling with Leo, since he was the only one with any kind of map! I thought I would get away with the occasional visit to an internet cafe to see where I was on Google Maps, but in hindsight that may not have been so easy. I soon learnt that a GPS-enabled smartphone with Google Maps goes a long way when it comes to negotiating the road-maze through southern Bangkok. Thanks Leo! Another bonus about cycling with Leo was that we could share the cost of hotel rooms, as options for wild camping were pretty scarce in the developed zones.

Negotiating the roads to Bangkok.

Leo and the smartphone that got us through Bangkok.

View over southern Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River.

Knowing which way to go was sometimes a challenge.

Bangkok was not our destination; it just happened to be in our way. We were both heading to Hua Hin to the south-west of it. Leo was planning on cycling southern Thailand while I had my sights set on birding at Kaeng Krachan National Park. After clearing the Bangkok maze (which took a good day!) we were home free. We maintained the partnership until the entrance gate to Kaeng Krachan, where Leo decided to continue south. After farewells, I was on my own again, and without my bike. Since bicycles are not permitted in the park, I left it at a guest farm (Samarn Bird Camp) near the park entrance for the duration of my stay.

Bikes in a row, with Leo's (left) being the lightest!

Meals were one of two options, soup or fried rice, with the latter my favourite.
Closer to paradise, at Kaeng Krachan headquarters.

On the road to Kaeng Krachan National Park.

Luckily I did not need my bike. There is only one road through Kaeng Krachan, connecting its two visitor camps. To make things even easier, the best birding along this road is within easy walking distance of both camps. I split the eight days that I had to explore the park between the two camps, Ban Krang and Panoenthung. These camps provide a small peek of the park. To put things a little more in perspective, Kaeng Krachan is over 2900 square km of pure forest, and is part of an extensive forest complex of 30 000 square km that stretches far into Myanmar. So its rather big, and hence supports big wildlife, such as elephant and tiger, amongst loads of others.

Silver-breasted Broadbills were common in Kaeng Krachan.

Within this massive forest, the 3 km stretch of road heading west from Ban Krang became my daily stomping ground (as for many other birders that visit the park), delivering a host of good birds. Lifers rolled in quickly, with highlights being three pitta species, including Blue-winged, Hooded and Blue Pitta, four species of broadbills, including Black-and-red, Banded, Dusky, and Silver-breasted Broadbill, as well as Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Sultan Tit, and Common Green Magpie. Christmas was early! Virtually every bird came wrapped in bright colours, with one insane colour combination being replaced by another more bizarre blend. The list can go on with Blue-cheeked Barbet, Common Flameback, Golden-crested Myna, and Black-backed Kingfisher. Some less colourful, but certainly no less adrenaline-pumping species, came in the disguised forms of Pin-stripped Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, Black-necked Tailorbird and the rather prehistoric-looking Great Slaty Woodpecker. Not your average woodpecker! 

The striking Sultan Tit is common around Ban Krang camp.

A female White-rumped Shama, also common around Ban Krang.

The visitor centre at Ban Krang camp in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

Black-and-Red Broadbills were also not hard to find.

Common Flameback foraging along a branch.

A Hooded Pitta, which clearly had a nest nearby.

A common Green Magpie.

A Blue-eared Barbet at its nesting hole.

The campsite at Ban Krang; I strung my hammock under the roof.

A Black-naped Monarch on the nest.

I only managed to see one kingfisher species, the diminutive Black-backed Kingfisher (also know as the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher). It was relatively easy to find at the streams crossing the road, which were also popular congregation spots for hundreds of brightly and insanely coloured butterflies. If birds are not your thing, you could loose yourself in the butterflies instead. Several mammal species were also about, with Malayan Porcupine visiting the camp’s kitchen at night for scraps, while the closest I got to an elephant was a pile of dung left on the road.

New life emerging from a pile of elephant dung on the road.

Black Giant Squirrels were seen daily.

The Black-crested Bulbul is a common Southeast Asian species.

To get to Panoenthung campsite, I hitched a ride with the first vehicle willing to take a psyched-up, twitching birder. Getting a ride was surprisingly easy and an hour later I was closer to the heavens. Panoenthung is perched at the top of a forested hill surround by more forested hills, as far as the eye can see. Its it worth staying here just for the view, which can be spectacular at anytime of the day. 

Forest surrounding Panoenthung in Kaeng Krachan National Park.

I had barely arrived when I met four local birders who were heading out on the road beyond the campsite, to a spot reputed to be good for seeing Rachet-tailed Treepie. Despite having a good look around, we did not see this sought-after species, but instead got good views of a pair of Wreathed Hornbills. Not a bad start I figured! 

A Wreathed Hornbill at the end of the road beyond Panoenthung.

The campsite at Panoenthung, no tents here during the week.

At the Panoenthung viewpoint with local birders.
Forested hills, one after the other.

Mountain Bulbuls are common around Panoenthung.

A Blue-throated Barbet.

During my four days at Panoenthung I birded around the campsite, and along the main road leading to the camp. To say it rained frequently would be an understatement; it rained frequently, a lot of the time! I spent a good proportion of my time dashing from one sheltered viewpoint to the next, all the while hoping to see a new bird species. Common species around the camp included the awesome Streaked Spiderhunter, Flavescent Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Blue-throated Barbet, White-throated Fantail, Vernal Hanging Parrot, White-browed Shrike-babbler, White-browed Scimitar-babbler, Collared Babbler and Mountain Imperial Pigeon amongst others. The latter had a nest in a small tree at the camp office. A walk along the Orchid Trail near the entrance to the campsite delivered a very lively bird party, with particiants including a flock of Golden Babblers, small but noisy, a single Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-throated Sunbird, White-browed Piculet, Black-naped Monach and probably some other species I missed amongst the commotion and excitement that accompanies bird parties. 

Collared Babblers were common around Panoenthung.

The stately Mountain Imperial Pigeon.

A White-browed Scimitar-babbler in the mist.

Sunset at Panoenthung camp.

At the famous Km 27.5 birding spot, a location at precisely 2.5 km from Panoenthung camp, I managed to escape the rain long enough to get some serious birding done. Great Barbet, Black-throated Laughingthrush, Ashy Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Tickell’s Brown Hornbill, Buff-rumped and Black-and-Buff Woodpecker all showed well (still missing Heart-spotted Woodpecker!). I missed the Red-breasted Trogon which apparently lurks in the woods there; it either wasn’t there or was sitting very still. The highlight was undoubtedly the Rachet-tailed Treepie, and while the distant views were shrouded in mist, I could just make out the destinctive tail of this species. At that point I was hoping for better weather more than anything else. But to no avail, the mist had settled in for the day. 

The sign that marks the Km 27.5 birding location before Panoenthung.

Its hard to appreciated the size of a Great Barbet in a photo.

An Ashy Bulbul.

Looking for Rachet-tailed Treepie, up there somewhere.

A photographer and his guide alerted me to the presence of a Long-tailed Broadbill nest close to the road. It was not long before the parent birds brought food to the nest; another broadbill species with a stricking colour scheme. Very happy with the results of the morning, I headed back to camp, only to get mesmerizing views of a Rufous-browed Flycatcher perched beside the road. Loads of mist about but the bird was so close that it did not matter.  

A photographer and his guide waiting for a Long-tailed Broadbill.

Long-tailed Broadbill, what a bird!

Besides the birding, I quite enjoyed the tranquility of Panoenthung. Vehicles are only allowed to reach the camp during two time slots each day. With no one else camping there during the week, and after the last of the day visitors had departed, the camp was virtually deserted. The far-carrying whooping calls of Lar Gibbons added to the atmosphere of this remote location, and I was lucky enough to get some brief sightings of this rather shy species. 

Dusky Lemurs were easier to see than Lar Gibbons.

My time was running out and so I spent my last day at Ban Krang, with not many species to add to my list - a Crested Jay was a thrilling final lifer. After departing, I spent two days at Samarn Bird Camp where I had left my bike, mainly to catch up on administrative duties that were lagging (there was no internet inside the park). Then it was a two-day cycle to Bangkok, and an end to my three months in Southeast Asia. While some exciting times were still to come, on a different continent, I was already looking forward to returning – far too many places still to explore, not to mention another visit to Kaeng Krachan.   

Roadside scenery on the way back to Bangkok.

Scaly-breasted Munia, a typical seeder-eater species.
A Black Bittern pretending not to be seen.

A White-browed Crake lily trotting, seen at a small wetland beside the road.

Cycle route through Thailand from Cambodian (A) to Kaeng Krachan Park (B).

Notes for birders:

In an attempt to revamp this blog, I have decided to add this new section to each post as a resource for birders.  Those who are reading the blog but are not birders can happily skip this section! While I thought I might write some birding notes for a first attempt, I realised there is a better source of information for birders wanting to visit Kaeng Krachan. So without making this post any longer, I would suggest visiting Nick Upton’s comprehensive webpage at For more general information on the park, you can also have a look at


  1. Seems like scored high in KKC! This is definetely my favorite rainforest birding place in the world. So many good birds and mammals and so nice to just walk around in your own world - as you say - especially outside weekends, you can have the place to yourself.

  2. Hi Eirik. It was indeed as good as you promised it would be! So i am pleased i made the effort to get there. Can't wait to return, but perhaps in a different season to get another perspective. Best, Eric

  3. I didn't see these kind of birds. You have shared beautiful information about birding. And I love them. I think these kind of birds only see in Thailand.

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  4. Dear Sofia. Many thanks for the comment. Its usually does takes time before one starts to see all the different species. The forest can also be surprisingly quiet at times too, so during short visits it is possible that one may not see much. I was fortunate that I had a lot of time for birding (8 days!). Best regards, Eric